Mental Health and HIV/HCV: A Heart-Based Approach?

HeartLast week with PAN has been rewarding and inspiring and I want to share a few thoughts about some of the events that occurred.


My PAN week began with the community-based research conference “Knowledge to Action”. I mean, I love CBR for lots of reasons, but mostly because it’s a space that takes research out of the universities and into communities – and community members get to participate in the research- rather than just getting researched. An amazing CBR researcher once told me, “we are all researchers. It’s what we do every day in our lives as we make choices and decisions”. That really struck home for me – and the conference helped to reinforce that idea. I also learned about some exciting CBR research that is happening and the group also identified key future research ideas. In addition the Aboriginal presenters and speakers shared ideas and principles about Indigenous CBR – especially about values and ethics that promote empowerment and self-determination. These values and principles are about “doing things in a good way and leading through the heart”.

We also had our 2nd Community of Practice session. Again, more inspiration. We learned about an amazing transformation that is happening in one of our smaller, more rural communities. After years of the familiar struggles in trying to implement harm reduction activities, addressing homelessness and providing support and advocacy around HIV and HCV, something gelled. “Critical mass”, one community member called it. In any event, the community has achieved a kind of cohesion through developing partnerships across many sectors including the First Nations’ territory holders – and this is translating into significant community change.  “Everyone is working together- and this means that for the first time, we are actually able to work together as a whole community to provide the supports and means for people who are struggling to be more safe and empowered”.  People in the community are coming together because they care. And it’s making a big difference. Wow! How cool is that?s, but mostly because it’s a space that takes research out of universities and into communities – and community members get to participate in the research- rather than just getting researched on.

We topped off last week with our quarterly Mental Health, Substance Use and HIV/HCV Advisory Committee meeting. We have such a great group of champions around the table from the community, public health and mental health. We reviewed our work over the past year and discussed priority goals and activities for this next fiscal. Here, too, there’s such a strong sense of collaboration and vision. And a general sense is emerging that we should deepen and make visible the values and motivations that motivate our work around mental health. These values were echoed throughout the week – and one community member called it, “a heart-based approach”.

I have been reflecting over the past few days on this idea of a heart-based approach to mental health. And it makes perfect sense. A heart based approach means that there is room for everyone’s ideas, experiences and wisdom.  It also means grounding everything in love and compassion. It means being committed to being open – and sometimes vulnerable. The heart of a heart-based approach though, I think, is carrying the vision and hope that we truly can support each other to continue to grow, learn and change into a more self-empowered version of ourselves.

I also think that a heart-based approach is different for everyone and I am very interested to hear what this means to you. And then, how do we translate this into our lives and the work that we do?

It’s going to be an exciting year ahead. Change and transformation are possible – thanks to all the wisdom and heart that you folks possess.

If you are interested in joining our Community of Practice, please send me an email to be placed on the list serve.



Carlene Dingwall

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